Chicken and wine are two of the most popular products we put on our table. Despite the amazing rate and quantity at which they are consumed, there is still great doubt about which type of wine goes better with a particular chicken dish.
When it comes to cooking, I am nothing but a poor dilettante. With wines, however, I do have some experience as I deal with organized tasting tours as part of my job.
So, based on my knowledge of wine tasting in Temecula and San Diego, and my insatiable appetite for chicken meals, here are my top 10 wine choices for chicken recipes.
But before we start...
Let me just point out that we've all been taught that the general rule when pairing wine with food is to pick red wines for red meat and white wines for white meat. However, this conservatory rule is no longer in use in most restaurants and wineries in Temecula Valley where you can enjoy the boldest red wine with the finest chicken recipes. Therefore, in the following recommendations, I’ve included both white and red varieties and humbly included some recipe suggestions that I find more suitable for each one of them.
Riesling is one of the most popular white wines. You can find it on the shelves of any supermarket in a wide range of varieties and at any price. This wine is known for its sweetness (although you can also find dry Riesling) which makes it a good alley for any spicy chicken dish. This fruity wine can become highly acid and it can get petrol notes as it ages. Riesling is very food-friendly and can pair well with different recipes.
Suggestion: pair with Chicken Piccata, Chicken Satay Pasta
2. Sauvignon Blanc
Sauvignon Blanc originates in France and has been cultivated since the 18th century. It is one of the most common varieties of white wine, outperformed in popularity and consumption only by Chardonnay. This wine’s characteristics vary a lot depending on where and how it is cultivated. It can be mineral, grassy, or fruity. Some of its distinctive aromas include apple, melon, smoke, and peppers.
Suggestion: pair with Grilled Chicken, Thai Green Chicken Curry, Sour-Orange Yucatán Chicken
3. Pinot Noir
Pinot Noir is the exception that confirms the rule … or the other way around. It is typically paired with red meat, but I assure you that it matches perfectly well with chicken too. Pinot Noir is highly acidic, but it does not contain as many tannins as other red wines. It can have different flavors depending on where it was grown: plum, currant, black cherry, roses, berry, etc. It has a pale color and subtle flavors.
Suggestion: pair with Roast Chicken, Chicken with Morels, and Tarragon Cream Sauce
The pride of white wines, Chardonnay is the most popular variety made out of white grapes. Its distinguishing aroma comes from the fact that it ages in oak casks or is treated with oak essence or oak chips. Other aromas you may find in this fine and refreshing wine are melon, vanilla, lemon, fruit, pineapple, cinnamon, butter, grass. This wine is highly acid and it stands out among others due to its golden color. It can vary in style from dry to full body, or velvety.
Suggestion: pair with Roasted or Grilled Chicken, Yogurt-Marinated Apricot Chicken Skewers, Poached Chicken with Lemon Butter Sauce
5. Chenin Blanc
This wine is utterly versatile so, if you love to experiment, both with wine and food, this is a choice to remember. The Chenin wine has a peculiar sweetness and, whatever food you try to pair it with, it will manage to play along and provide you with an exquisite taste. This wine can be produced in different styles: sparkling or full-bodied are just some options. It is highly acid and it can have any level of sweetness.
Suggestion: pair with Roast Chicken, Chicken Scarpariello, Chicken and Mango Salad
Viognier is one of the oldest wines in the world. Some say that even the ancient Romans used to enjoy its floral aroma. Some of the distinguishing notes you may find in this wine are apricot, peach, vanilla, and violets. These dry wines are famous for their creamy taste and they pair well with spicy food. Its style can vary from full body to soft and acid.
Suggestion: pair with Grilled Chicken, Chicken in Ginger or Orange Sauce, Chicken Korma
Grenache is a red wine that is very popular in Spain, but you can also find it in California. It is a wine with a very strong, aromatic taste with flavors of fruits such as strawberries, cherries, or raspberries. Its very sweet taste might make people question its position on this list, but I believe that it creates a perfect blend when paired with salty or spicy foods.
Suggestion: Teriyaki Chicken, Garlic Soy Chicken, Spicy Chicken Breasts, Buffalo Wings
8. Pinot Gris
Pinot Gris wines are made from the grapes that have the homonymous name which stands out through their greyish-blue skin and darker tint. This wine has a deeper color than other white varieties. It can have different aromas based on the area where it is produced: pear, lemon, fruit. It has a flat acidity and it can range from medium to full body. Pinot Gris is a popular variety both in America and Europe where it is produced. Its versatile taste allows it to pair with different dishes, chicken included.
Suggestion: pair with Chicken Tikka Masala, Thai Green Chicken Curry, Sesame Chicken
Merlot has long been regarded as the poor brother of Cabernet Sauvignon. This is mainly due to the abundance of low-quality Merlot that has been commercialized for some time now. However, this underestimated wine has some outstanding qualities especially if paired with the right dish. This is a fruity wine with a medium content of tannins. Merlot wines can have different aromas ranging from mellow to robust. Some of its characteristic notes may include plum, cherry, blueberry, vanilla, currant, rose, violets.
Suggestion: pair with Roast Chicken, Grilled Chicken & Vegetables
Zinfandel is a full-body wine characterized by a strong berries aroma. Zinfandel is one of the most popular wines in California, its homeland, and you can taste it in many local wineries. This is one of the oldest and most common wine varieties produced in California. It is a strong and versatile wine with a high content of tannins. Some of the flavors that can perfect this wine are raspberry, dark berry, black pepper, spices, licorice.
Suggestion: pair with Grilled Chicken Thighs, Tunisian Spice-Roasted Chicken, Honey-Mustard Chicken
Finally, a useful tip to keep in mind when pairing chicken with wine is to actually think of the ingredients that you are going to add to your dishes such as sauce and spices. Basically, these extra elements are the ones that have to go along with the beverage and not the meat itself. Also, keep in mind that there are plenty of great recipes for weight loss that can pair well with wine … drank in moderation of course.
Chicken is a less fussy option than red meat that requires its robust red friend or fish that longs for the delicacy of white wine. Enjoy this meat’s versatility and dare to pair it with more than one type of wine!